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Rapid testing to be piloted in four universities, says minister

Antigen testing on construction sites will begin in a matter of weeks, say sources.

A government report has recommended that pilot schemes are run in settings from schools and colleges to sporting organisations and workplaces.
A government report has recommended that pilot schemes are run in settings from schools and colleges to sporting organisations and workplaces.
Image: Shutterstock/ilze kalve

RAPID TESTING IS to be piloted in third level colleges, according to Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris TD. 

Pilots will initially be run in four universities.

The government’s expert group on rapid testing has recommended that the self-administered Covid-19 tests should be rolled out across a number of settings, including colleges and schools. 

The report says that antigen tests “should complement” existing HSE PCR testing programmes and that there is “growing evidence” for asymptomatic antigen testing due the increased commercial availability of the tests. 

The report recommends widespread rapid testing in Universities, Colleges, Institute of Technology and further education establishments, with particular attention on accommodation.

Rapid testing is already underway in healthcare settings and there is a number of pilot programmes in meat-processing plants. 

The report says that individual departments should take the lead in their specific areas.

Harris said he is “very eager” for rapid testing pilots to take place in the third level sector.

“Some existing research into rapid Covid-19 testing has already taken place in our universities and it is intended to extend these studies in the coming weeks in line with the report’s recommendations.

“These pilots will provide learning on the potential role rapid testing can play as an additional tool to assist our plans for additional onsite education in the next academic year,” he said.

“Building upon existing collaboration my Department will now engage further with key stakeholders including Science Foundation Ireland, universities in a position to act as potential study sites and the HSE. Our ambition is to finalise plans shortly and quickly begin pilot studies in four universities,” said Harris.

“My Department will work closely with the Department of Health and the HSE on this initiative so as to learn from and contribute to the wider approach to rapid testing,” he added.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said earlier this week that the the government plans to  “expand antigen testing quite significantly” across a number of areas.

Varadkar said he will take the lead on rolling out antigen testing in workplaces in the private sector. 

It is understood that antigen testing in settings such as factories and construction sites will begin in a matter of weeks. 

While private industry will pay for their own tests for their workers, it is understood the cost will county against their tax as a business expense. 

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Government sources state that businesses have been eager to roll out antigen testing in order to reopen, and with the government’s signal this week that antigen testing is getting the green light, they are eager to make it operational.

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